It’s not often that my kids cheer multiple times during the reading of a book. They laugh, they frown, but rarely do I see them clap, whoop, or shout “Go God!” while we’re reading. Yet Rebecca Davis’ new middle grade book Witness Men: True Stories of God at Work in Papua, Indonesia (Christian Focus Publications, 2013, Hidden Heroes series) is just such a book.
I wholeheartedly shared their enthusiasm for the story of how God moved through Papua, Indonesia. The tale of how the Gospel of the Good News of Jesus Christ swept that country is inspiring, humbling and – well, it’s worth whooping about.
Rebecca Davis has done an amazing job of incorporating the stories of multiple missionaries (and even a professor at a Bible college) who gave their lives’ best (and sometimes their lives) in service of Christ as they shared the Gospel with multiple unreached people groups. Mrs. Davis’ theme of “God at Work” was evident throughout the book.
Witness Men isn’t a biography or even a set of biographies. This is the story of God’s Word reaching an island of people through the collective effort of many men and women and through God’s providential provision.
The tribal people of Papua, Indonesia (previously called Dutch New Guinea, West Irian, Irian Jaya, and West Papua) were animists, violent warriors, and cannibals. Their contact with the outside world was limited in some areas to other Indonesian islands and, in the depths of the islands, the people had been isolated for centuries.
Mrs. Davis begins her story in 1938 with the Western world’s discovery of tens of thousands of tribal Papuans and ends with the Kimyal people finally receiving copies of the New Testament in their own language in early 2010. Throughout the book there are stories of individual Papuans, tribes and missionaries. It is amazing to see the transformation of entire tribes as the grace of God is understood and received. The title Witness Men refers to the newly Christian Papuan men who took up the cross of Christ and began to spread the Gospel to other tribes. The dark in Papua was so dark and the light of the Gospel so bright that Witness Men becomes an epic tale of good vs. evil, dark vs. light, and demons vs. the Creator of the Universe.
There is a “Thinking Further” section in the back of the book which includes Bible verses and discussion questions about each chapter of the book. I highly recommend utilizing this resource as you read. Also, there are nicely done pen and ink illustrations by Fred Apps throughout the book which break up the chapters.
Witness Men is the third book in the Hidden Heroes series by Rebecca Davis. Her first two titles are:
- With Two Hands: Stories of God at Work in Ethiopia (#1)
- The Good News Must Go Out: Stories of God at Work in the Central African Republic (#2)
I enjoyed this book (and the theme) so much, I intend to collect the first two in the Hidden Heroes series, and any that follow.
On a final note, you may consider reading it with your younger children so that you can discuss some of the more sensitive topics. Witness Men is written for children ages 9-12, or as a read-aloud for ages 7-8. You will want to be aware that the book discusses some darker spirituality. The Papuan tribes were animists and cannibals. Mrs. Davis is never graphic and I believe she handles this issue with care. However, the issue of cannibalism is brought up several times throughout the book. There is mention (and explanation) of “power pieces” and shamans. Additionally, the missionaries must share the Gospel within the context of the culture they’re ministering to. This makes for some interesting Bible stories. Witness Men is not a “dark” book. It’s an exciting tale of God’s power and might over the forces of evil.
I want to thank Christian Focus Publications for providing me with a copy of Witness Men: True Stories of God at Work in Papua, Indonesia by Rebecca Davis in return for my honest opinion. (There are no affiliate links in this post.)
~ Danika Cooley
Danika Cooley is a children’s writer with a love for God’s Word, history, wisdom and small people. Her work has appeared in magazines including Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse, Clubhouse Jr., and Thriving Family; Upper Room Ministries’ Pockets and Devozine; CBH Ministries’ Keys for Kids; and Cobblestone Group’s FACES and Odyssey. Her work also appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters.